Tai Chi May Be Useful to Treat Fibromyalgia
Laurie Barclay, MD
August 18, 2010 — Tai chi may be a helpful intervention for patients with fibromyalgia, according to the results of a single-blind, randomized trial reported in the August 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Previous research has suggested that tai chi offers a therapeutic benefit in patients with fibromyalgia,” write Chenchen Wang, MD, MPH, from Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues. “…[Tai chi] combines meditation with slow, gentle, graceful movements, as well as deep breathing and relaxation, to move vital energy (or qi) throughout the body. It is considered a complex, multicomponent intervention that integrates physical, psychosocial, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral elements.”
Fibromyalgia was defined by American College of Rheumatology 1990 criteria. Participants (n = 66) were randomly assigned 1:1 to receive classic Yang-style tai chi or a control intervention consisting of wellness education and stretching. In both groups, participants received 60-minute sessions twice weekly for 12 weeks.
Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) score (ranging from 0 – 100) at the end of 12 weeks was the main study outcome, with higher scores indicating more severe symptoms. Secondary outcomes were summary scores on the physical and mental components of the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey. To assess durability of the response, these tests were performed again at 24 weeks.
Improvements in the FIQ total score and quality of life in the tai chi group were clinically important. For this group, mean baseline and 12-week FIQ scores were 62.9 ± 15.5 and 35.1 ± 18.8, respectively, vs 68.0 ± 11 and 58.6 ± 17.6, respectively, in the control group. The mean between-group difference from baseline in the tai chi group vs the control group was ?18.4 points (P < .001).
The tai chi group also fared better than the wellness intervention group in physical component scores of the Short-Form Health Survey (28.5 ± 8.4 and 37.0 ± 10.5 for the tai chi group vs 28.0 ± 7.8 and 29.4 ± 7.4 for the control group; between-group difference, 7.1 points; P = .001) and mental component scores (42.6 ± 12.2 and 50.3 ± 10.2 vs 37.8 ± 10.5 and 39.4 ± 11.9, respectively; between-group difference, 6.1 points; P = .03).
These improvements were still present at 24 weeks (FIQ score between-group difference, ?18.3 points; P < .001), with no reported adverse events.
Limitations of this study include lack of double blinding, lack of generalizability because treatment was delivered by a single tai chi master at a single center, and follow-up limited to 24 weeks.
“In conclusion, our preliminary findings indicate that tai chi may be a useful treatment in the multidisciplinary management of fibromyalgia,” the study authors write. “Longer-term studies involving larger clinical samples are warranted to assess the generalizability of our findings and to deepen our understanding of this promising therapeutic approach.”
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the American College of Rheumatology Research and Education Foundation Health Professional Investigator Award, and the Boston Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center Research Career Development Award supported this study. The contents of the journal article are solely the responsibility of the study authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine or the National Institutes of Health. Disclosure forms provided by the study authors are available with the full text of the original article here .
N Engl J Med. 2010;363:743-754.
Authors and Disclosures
Laurie Barclay, MD
Freelance writer and reviewer, Medscape, LLC
Disclosure: Laurie Barclay, MD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
Thanks to Michele Candida Dobbelaere for bringing this article to my attention. Call 718 258 1829 to join a class.